The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Another delicious Gothic murder mystery by the author of The Woman in Cabin 10 and In A Dark Dark Wood, The Turn of the Key has Ruth Ware’s trademark twists and enough suspense to keep you reading through the night.  If you are familiar with Henry James’ Turn of the Screw (available for free from Project Gutenberg), you will know the similarity in the titles is no accident.

Both novels revolve around a caregiver of children – a governess in James’ 1890 story and a nanny in Ware’s.  Both involve ghosts – real or imagined – wreaking havoc on the surroundings, and both lead to the revelation of whether or not the caregiver is guilty of murder.  Both are scary.

Ware sets her story in an updated Victorian smart house with an automation system controlling lighting, climate, entertainment systems, and appliances and a sophisticated home security system, but she cleverly maintains the Gothic aura by keeping sections of the house, especially the creepy attic and the overgrown garden, in old-fashioned mode. Setting the story in the Scottish Highlands helps too.  Both James and Ware knew a threatening house must have a past, preferably with a murder or two to stir the possible malevolence instilled in its walls.  The death of a child figures prominently in both stories.

The protagonist in The Turn of the Key, the nanny, is writing a letter from prison to solicit the help of a well-known attorney.  As she tells her side of the story, the reader suspects she is an unreliable narrator, but Ware keeps the story off balance by creating circumstances showing she might be innocent.  The big reveal at the end of the story identifies the murder victim and the murderer – and it caught me by surprise.

Ruth Ware has been compared to Agatha Christie and Wilkie Collins (author of the Woman in White), but her modern Gothic tales amazingly update the eerie and mysterious, translating the thrills into today’s world.  A smart house with computer glitches can be scary.  She always delivers a good story with a surprise ending, and I can’t wait for her next one.

The Turn of the Key is due for publication in the United States on August 6th.

 

 

Once Upon a Time…a few books with happy endings

No matter the journey – from Moriarty’s clever twists and heart-stopping foils to Elizabeth Berg’s magical realism, Diane Setterfield’s Gothic mystery, and Tara Westover’s shocking revelations – when the ending neatly slays the dragons, and the good guys win – all is well with the story.

51-+rlhp5gl._ac_us218_Nine Perfect Strangers

Liane Moriarty knows how to spin a tale and she does not disappoint in her latest page turner Nine Perfect Strangers.  Nine strangers at an upscale spa connect in her tale of self discovery, with humor, mystery, and a few heart stopping thrills.  Each has a different motive for signing up for the ten day rejuvenation plan, from the young couple who need marriage counseling after winning the lottery to the overwrought romance writer who has been taken in by an internet scam.  Others include the thirty something woman with four girls whose husband left her for a twenty something, a handsome gay divorce attorney, an over-the-hill sports hero, and a grieving family of three. Throw in a Russian overachiever with diabolical intent, and Moriarty once again has produced a fun and thrilling fast ride.

513lhruwtul._ac_us218_Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Setterfield creates a Gothic mystery around a “dark and stormy night” during the winter solstice over one hundred years ago with a mute child brought back from the dead after drowning in the river.  Three separate families claim the girl as their own – Helena and Anthony Vaughan believe she’s their kidnapped daughter; Robert and Bess Armstrong think she’s their illegitimate grandchild ; and Lily White hopes she’s her lost sister.  As the plot meanders through the town and the river, I sometimes got lost in the flashbacks. The complicated mystery is solved quickly at the end, but the rapid decompression may give you the bends.  Like Setterfield’s first novel The Thirteenth Tale, Once Upon a River has scenes shifting through time with strong characters at the helm.

th  Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg

Elizabeth Berg knows how to dish out comfort, and in Night of Miracles the food helps.  You’ll be salivating at the midnight chocolate cake, the butterscotch dreams, and the cream cheese lemon bars   Lucille Howard from The Story of Arthur Trulove returns in the familiar town of Mason, Missouri, where she is now at eighty-eight years old teaching classes on baking.  Arthur’s adopted daughter, Maddy, and his granddaughter, continue to be a part of her life.  A few new characters add flavor:  Iris Winters, looking for a fresh start in a new town; Monica, the waitress; Tiny, a local man and frequent customer pining for Monica; the young couple next door to Lucille facing a health crisis, and their son Lincoln. When Lucille receives an ethereal night visitor in her dreams, the angel of death in jeans and a flannel shirt,  you will wonder if no more sequels are forthcoming.  Nonetheless, the story is full of good people doing good things for each other – oblivious of the rancor in the outside world – a tonic and a lesson of hope.

41qzuq2h2wl._ac_us218_Educated by Tara Westover

If happy endings make you smile, this coming of age memoir will make you gasp.  With a fundamentalist upbringing on a Morman Idaho homestead, Tara Westover embellishes her hard journey to success and graduate degrees in Education.  Although she admits she might have gotten some of the facts mixed up, memory being what it is (especially when you’ve suffered a number of head injuries from car crashes and beatings), Westover’s harrowing account of survival is sometimes difficult to digest.  Her tale is her catharsis, but not everyone will want to know all those details. Hopefully, she’ll move on to using her Cambridge Ph.D. to write about other topics.

The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman

9780062562623_p0_v2_s192x300   Whether or not you believe in ghosts, Carol Goodman’s Gothic mystery – The Widow’s House – might challenge your peace of mind.  The psychological suspense thriller is set in the Hudson Valley of New York with an unreliable narrator defying a host of chilling affronts.

When Claire and Jess Martin decide to move from their Brooklyn apartment to upstate New York near the farm where Claire grew up, they find the only affordable accommodations are as caretakers to an old crumbling mansion named Riven House belonging to their former college professor, also a writer.  Jess, having published his first book soon after graduating from college, has spent years looking for inspiration for his second, while Claire, an aspiring writer herself, abandoned her dreams to write to work as a copy editor to support them both.  When the money from Jess’s advance finally runs out, the Martins—now in their mid-thirties—are forced to move back upstate.

The house is clearly the Gothic replica of Thornfield Hall from Jane Eyre but soon takes on the characteristics of the Hitchcock setting in Gaslight or Shirley Jackson’s Hill House;  its history includes a series of tragedies and is thought haunted by the locals.  As Claire researches the house’s former occupants for her own novel, she is soon terrorized by their ghosts.

Goodman cleverly inserts doubt about Claire’s mental health, perhaps confirming the reader’s unwillingness to believe in the paranormal phenomenon appearing in the mist. Claire’s sanity is placed in question by revealing her nervous breakdown earlier, and her tendency to edit her own life, remaking it to something better and overlooking her traumas and losses of the past.  As people begin to die at Riven House,  Clare’s grip on reality becomes suspect, and the reader has to decide who to believe.

Like her other Gothic mystery romances, Goodman’s The Widow’s House combines  supernatural possibilities with the reality of human cruelty and misery.  In the end, you aren’t quite sure what the truth is, although Goodman provides a sane possibility. The captivating tale will haunt you and you will love every moment.

I am a fan of Goodman, having read all her novels from The Lake of Dead Languages to River Road.  As a bonus, Goodman offered a list of books that have inspired her in her notes at the end of the book.  You might look for one when you are in the mood for another chilling mystery.

Goodman’s List of Favorite Haunted House Stories:

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  • The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons
  • The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle
  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Reviews of Other Carol Goodman Books:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

River Road by Carol Goodman

9781501109904_p0_v2_s192x300   Carol Goodman’s mysteries cannot come fast enough for me, and her latest – River Road – has all the plot twists and Gothic flavor of her earlier books – The Seduction of Water and The Lake of Dead Languages.  Goodman once again mixes grief and revenge with office politics and murder.  Her mystery thriller brought back memories of the politics and secrets of academia, most notably the English department.

Nan Lewis, an English professor up for tenure at a state college in upstate New York, hits a deer on her way home from the department Christmas party.  The next day, Nan learns from the police that her favorite student, Leia Dawson, has been killed the night before on that same road.  The site is the same bend in the road where, years earlier, Nan’s 4-year-old daughter, Emmy, had been killed by a hit-and-run driver. Nan becomes the main suspect in the death of her student, but the investigation quickly spreads to include students and other professors in a tale full of unreliable narrators and red herrings.

As mysterious clues appear linking her daughter’s and her student’s death, a handsome police chief comes to Nan’s rescue more than once – adding an inevitable romantic storyline to the fast-paced killer pursuit.  The unforgiving cold weather adds to the drama, as well as Nan’s guilt over her daughter’s death.

A quick and satisfying read, River Road joins Goodman’s prolific output of books with murder, ghosts, and secrets.

Related ReviewArcadia Falls

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Although we may worry that someday we will become our mothers, their lives before we were born  – that young woman who still exists behind the aging eyes – usually remains a mystery, no matter how well documented the family history.  In her latest novel, Kate Morton uses the mystery of a mother’s youth with the backdrop of the London Blitz to reveal a captivating story of love, war, and deception in The Secret Keeper.

Laurel, the eldest daughter now in her sixties, is haunted by an incident she accidentally witnessed when she was a sixteen year old girl; she saw her mother stab a man to death.  The only other witness was her two-year old younger brother, Gerry.  The secret, kept for fifty years from her other three sisters, now surfaces as her ninety-year-old mother is dying.  Morton alternates the action from wartime London in the 1940s to the bucolic modern setting of Greenacres farm, the family homestead.  As the story unwinds with each character revealing another piece of the puzzle, Morton cleverly maintains the suspense:

“Never discount the possibility of turning up an answer none of the current theories predicts.”

As Laurel and her brother investigate clues they find in their mother’s trunk – an old white fur coat, a dedication in a book, a photograph, a note with only the words “thank you,” each piece is explained with a flashback to one of the key characters: Dorothy, Laurel’s mother; Vivian, the mysterious wealthy friend; and Jimmy, the photographer who documented wartime existence, its horrors as well as its poignant moments.

Kate Morton is one of my guilty pleasures; each of her books has that curl-up-in-a-comfy-chair storytelling quality with just enough romance and Gothic mystery.  With its subtle twists, this tale has her usual formula and takes a little longer than usual to get to her trademark surprise ending.  If you’ve enjoyed her other books (see my reviews below), you won’t be disappointed in this one.

Reviews of other Kate Morton Books: